Wednesday, September 9, 2015 4:30 pm
The car radio blared a rendition of Fela’s instrumental music as the vehicle turned into Main Street. This was not really for anyone’s listening pleasure. It was merely an intro to a phone-in programme called ‘No gag me o!’ The day’s newspapers had been reviewed and it was now time for members of the public to call in to express their views.
‘Today’s hot topic’ announced the presenter, ‘is the report in many newspapers that Nigerians are outraged as Buhari appoints more Northerners…’
‘Outraged! Outraged! That is an understatement!’ screamed the bigwig seated at the owner’s corner of the SUV. ‘It’s doubly outrageous! It’s treacherous!’
‘What is it sir?’
The bigwig leaned forward, unsure where the sound came from. It must be from the radio. Some sort of mix-up in the studio. Too many amateur radio station these days.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Rebbys, his twenty-five year old personal assistant seated opposite him. She was engrossed in the newspapers nested on her tight-fitting pair of trousers. Rebby, short for Rebecca, never addressed him as ‘sir’ unless members of his political and natural families were present. The bigwig used to wonder how she managed to flow flawlessly between two opposite personalities; but that was a long time ago.
‘What is outrageous sir?’
This time, the source of the sound was unmistakable. A male voice. His driver, Banjo had just asked him a question. Not once, but twice! Banjo never spoke about what was unrelated to The Prado and other sundry errands. He was not expected to. The bigwig’s first reaction was to give him a sharp rebuke, but he decided against it. Their relationship will be better off if he pretended the statement had been unheard. It had been unheard, so it had been unuttered.
The bigwig leaned back into the owner’s corner. ‘Is this the change we asked for?’, he thought, ‘Is this the change we paid and campaigned for? Even relationships are upside down. Change, what change?!’
‘Hello…!’ The radio blared.
‘We have a caller on the line.. Hello!,’ announced the presenter.
‘Hello.. Good moring…. We are enjoy your programme..’
‘What is your name and where are you calling from?’
‘My name is Mama Bisi at Oja Oba. We are really enjoy your programme…… Sometimes we
want to call but is very busy…. ‘
‘Make your illiterate point,’ yawned the bigwig.
‘What is your contribution ma?’, agreed the presenter.
‘You know, dis people talking about sharing post, make dem leave our President to do his work o… Now we don dey get light…. Hello.. Dat Lawyer Chike wey call before wey dey talk say Buhari no use consitusion to choose im ministers, say he no use north and south formula, the time wey Obasanjo use consitusion, shey we get light? The time wey Jonathan use formula, shey we get petrol? Abeg…..’
‘Thank you madam for calling… Very deep questions there from Mama Bisi… Let’s take a break…Don’t touch the dial!’
‘Switch that thing off!’ ordered the bigwig. ‘Deep questions? ….. He calls that stomach infrastructure contribution deep? That woman’s understanding of the issues at stake is only as deep as her underfed belly!…. Anyway, any biology graduate can enlist as a journalist these days….’
‘Leave the radio onnnn,’ said Rebby, like a mother concerned with the welfare of her child. She removed one of the newspapers and placed it in the space between her and the bigwig. ‘Is it not you elders who say human bellies are deeper than the deepest well?’
He scanned her pretty face for signs of sarcasm. Whenever they had disagreements, which they rarely did, she’d refer to him as a daddy or an elder. ‘Daddy, please forgive your daughter’, she’d plead.
‘What has the elders’ proverb got to do with this?’ he asked.
‘Well, I’m just thinking if we care to dig a little bit, we might find that despite the pedestrian vocabulary, she was making a valid point.’
‘Then, being a woman, we’ll probably have to dig forever to get to the bottom of her thoughts…’
‘Hey,’ she cuts in. ‘Not the sexist thing again. You can’t say such things at press interviews when the time comes.’
‘That’s the reason I should enjoy my freedom of speech now while it lasts,’ he countered, ‘As I was saying, it has been scientifically proven that female bellies are deeper than ours. Same goes for all animals including bulls and cows’
‘Cows have deeper bellies than bulls? What field of science proved that?’
‘Abattoirolgy,’ he quipped.
The bigwig noted that Banjo also chuckled. He was beginning to doubt his secretary’s idea that an educated driver would prove better than the retired illiterate Baba Hamzat. In a few days though, he wouldn’t have to worry about such mundane things. There will be many drivers to pick from in the ministerial pool.
‘It’s one of the things I’ll one day ask Mr President,’ he said, bending slightly towards Rebby.
‘If the bellies of bulls and cows…’
‘You are nervous, aren’t you,’ she teased.
‘I think you may probably be right in a technical sort of way.’
Banjo’s outstretched hand hesitated as he processed the conflicting instructions about turning off the radio; and having learnt in the past month that the PA can sometimes overrule the boss, he placed the hand back firmly on the steering. Then he seemed to change his mind about doing nothing. ‘A politician’s driver should know how to take the middle road between contrary instructions,’ he thought. Gradually, almost unnoticeably, he dialled down the on-steering volume control to half its initial level.
‘We might miss the breaking news, you know,’ Rebby brought the discussion back on track. He placed a hand on the bigwig’s shoulder. ‘What if the president announces suddenly the appointment of his southerners.., I mean ministers? You know what he’s like, don’t you? You don’t want people calling to congratulate you before you hear the good news, do you?’
The traffic inched forward. The bigwig felt some satisfaction as okadas and other lesser vehicles avoided hitting the gleaming Prado. ‘It will be much better though,’ he thought, ‘if one could hurry through all of this with a siren.’
The ‘go slow market’ was bustling. A tall, thick set teenager tried to sell some rainbow lipsticks to Rebby. An emaciated blind man was led by his guide to the bigwig’s side of the vehicle.
‘Ranka dede,’ he intoned,’E fu mi nitori Oloun!’
The guide whispered something into his principal’s ear. He nodded. Then with greater vigour, he burst into a song while the guide echoed. Their voices filtered into the air conditioned car, a worthy complement to the wild orchestra of blaring horns piercing through the morning air.
‘Baba mai kudi..
Baba olowo. Make God bless you flenty, flenty’
‘Allah ki aye
‘Give me some money.’ The bigwig stretched a hand towards his PA.
‘What are you buying?’
‘Here you go.’ She handed him a brand new five-hundred Naira note.
He rolled down the car window just enough for the note to pass through. The guide stretched a hand past the old man’s shoulder. The bigwig withdrew the money into the car and signalled that he would rather place the money in the blind old man’s hand. The guide winced, then guided his principal’s hand to the small opening. As he felt the crispness of the note, a big smile crossed his wrinkled lips, mixed with gratitude.
‘Zank u, zinc u. E se, e se.. Adura a gba..sauka lafia’ The voice trailed the slow moving vehicle.
Banjo looked briefly into the rear view mirror as if to confirm this was really happening.
‘Why did you do that, Bee?’ Rebby enquired, her face a mixture of surprise and admiration.
‘Well,’ he answered, ‘it’s sensible to invest in someone who may be announced as our country’s foreign minister tomorrow… Anti-corruption, Arewa bla bla.. If they want change, then we might as well be very dramatic about it.’
‘Hey calm down; he hasn’t been appointed yet,’ Rebby scolded playfully.
‘Of course, it’s not funny. It’s not funny at all. How much did he spend on the election, eh… You tell me. How much campaigning did he do?!’
‘The President or the old beggar?’ Rebbie asked.
‘Both of them! They were probably classmates anyway.’ He laughed with satisfaction at his own sense of humour. ‘Well, if he doesn’t recognize me, his guide probably will, and we might get a juicy ambassadorial posting at least. Not bad for five Naira investments.’
“Did you say ‘we’?” Rebby asked, a more serious look on her face.